It seems too often that retro-inspired art feels lazy, a cop out when an artist doesn’t have his or her own voice or story to tell. This problem seems especially endemic with retro metal bands trying to relive metal’s “glory days” (to be fair, Necromancing the Stone are awesome). Recent Relapse Record signees, Sumerlands, do not have that problem. Theirs is a sound that is truly retro but feels so damn fun that their clear love of the 70s and 80s is enough of a voice to stand on its own. Well, that’s not entirely true. Vocalist Phil Swanson is a dead ringer for Ozzy Osbourne. if he listened to a bit more goth. Guitarists Arthur Rizk and John Powers plow through dazzling melodic leads and solos with ease, and the music also borrows from early 80s prog. It’s not necessarily heavy or fast, but in the context of “metal” in the 70s and 80s, Sumerlands’ style is certainly speed metal influenced.
You know what else they get right? For all the times I (and many others) complain about bands not understanding how to self-edit and releasing over-long, over-stuffed records that would be far better with less music, Sumerlands just gets it. This eight-song affair has only one unnecessary tune, and, humorously, it’s the instrumental synth-led, atmospheric title track. Otherwise, this 32-minute record is like a perfectly stuffed Thanksgiving turkey. On top of all the other things the band do well, this thing has more hooks than a meat locker. The twin guitar attack is truly excellent, and Swanson’s voice is perfect for this style of music. The songs are immensely memorable, especially “Seventh Seal” and “Spiral Infinite”. Both of those are the fastest songs on the record, which help explain their charm, but Sumerlands are talented enough at proto-doom to make the more deliberate tracks worthwhile, even if their impact is less than maximal.
There are a lot of revivalist heavy metal bands, but there are few who are even close to as good as Sumerlands. The talent is impressive, but their ability to craft old-school tunes that feel fresh now is more laudatory. This is sure to be on many year-end lists, for good reason.